The “U.S. Cellular” moniker on the White Sox home stadium has been an increasing curiosity the last few years, since the mobile phone company’s share of the market is just a whisper of what it was when the $68 million name rights deal was struck in 2003.
It only makes sense then, that the potential end of the agreement is spurred by U.S. Cellular pulling out of the Chicago market entirely, and selling off its business in the area to Sprint/Nextel.
The agreement sticks around for now, even if it doesn’t make any business sense for a company to pay for advertising in a place where it doesn’t do business. But it brings to mind the annoying element of the recent spate of corporate stadium names, other than the clumsy, intrusive falseness of the names themselves.
They can change.
Referring to U.S. Cellular as “The Cell” isn’t much more than trying to draw a face on bloodstained volleyball, but changing it to another meaningless company name just makes it worse. It shakes out all the ascribed meaning and tradition, and reboots to yet another blank screen.
That was a lot of the original tragedy of the switch away from being “Comiskey Park”, since the classic sound of the name and its long history in the city covered up the fact that Charles Comiskey was notoriously stingy and cold-hearted, to the point where being the first guy to play behind the bag at 1st base doesn’t make up for it.
Even though their shelf life is reduced these days, stadiums have a permanence in our baseball-watching routine that players will never have, which is why we crave a familiar and endearing way to address them. But when turning the title placard of the stadium into another billboard is an easy way to secure an eight-figure payday (if not more), and locking away the naming rights permanently wastes an opportunity to capitalize down the road on escalating franchise values, chances are slim of any of these cravings getting satisfied. At least now while the team is being run by a businessman as savvy as Jerry Reinsdorf
Other than the potential amusing cognitive dissonance of a park where stocking a power-hitting roster is always the best strategy being named “Sprint Field”, I see no cozying up to a park named for the new dominant mobile phone conglomerate. Unless of course, Sprint/Nextel decides to get all deconstructionist and negotiate a new deal to name the stadium Dominant Mobile Phone Conglomerate Field.
Since opening in 1991, U.S. Cellular Field has never been special, but there have been effective means of making it “ours”. Those will need to come from a means outside official name recognition, which looks set to remain mired in impersonal, transiet corporatized slop until further notice.
Whatever pays for Chris Sale’s uber-extension and hyperbaric chamber, I suppose. Obviously, we long ago made the decision that we care more about that.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan